Units – what’s it all about?
Alcohol and its effects vary from person to person, especially as we age. It’s important to remember that if you have health problems or use medications, including over the counter medicines, these can also affect how much you are able to drink.
The government has recommended guidelines on alcohol use and these are measured in units. Measuring in units may not come naturally to you – so sometimes it is easier to think about units in terms of actual alcoholic drinks that you’re familiar with.
New recommended guidelines
The government recently set new alcohol guidelines. Guidelines for men and women are now the same and recommend that:
- you should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week
- you spread the 14 units over at least three days of the week
- you try to have regular alcohol free days
Also to reduce the short-term health risks of drinking (such as falls, injuries)
- try to limit the amount you drink in one sitting
- drink slowly, try to drink with food and space your drinks with water
Finally, no known level of drinking can be deemed to be fully safe (especially in terms of illnesses such as cancer) therefore we can only refer to ‘lower risk’ drinking.
Some health experts recommend that adults aged 65 and over should consume even less alcohol. This is because as we get older:
- Our body’s ability to breakdown alcohol in the liver is reduced
- We become more sensitive to the toxic effects of alcohol
- We are likely to be on medications
- alcohol concentration in the blood (BAC – Blood Alcohol Concentration) is likely to be higher in older people. As your age, muscle is replaced by body fat and alcohol is not drawn into fat as well as muscle.
However, there are currently no government guidelines on recommended limits for older adults. It’s important to add that the health and well-being of older adults varies greatly for each individual. For example, you can have a very healthy 73 year-old versus someone in their 50s with complex health problems so seeking medical advice is always advised.
You can work out how many units there are in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (which is measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1000. Use our guide to better understand what a unit actually looks like.Download PDF (113.5KB)
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